Wednesday, November 20, 2019


On a highly mechanized burley operation in east Tennessee, a farmer prepares cured leaf for marketing in this image from several years ago. How much mechanization will be right for you in the coming season, or how little? File photo by the editor.

There can be no doubt: Tobacco farmers will face a huge challenge making a profit in 2020. There are a variety of reasons but the one most difficult to address is that...

The world supply of leaf is way out of proportion to the current demand. The dreary prospects for 2020 that TFN is hearing are that we might have an attrition among tobacco farmers of 20 percent, if not more.

Identifying the problem: The Tobacco Growers Association of N.C. held a forum on the situation on January 19. I wasn't allowed to attend, but I was able to interview four of the participants right afterward and heard some good ideas. Here is what I found out:

The strong American dollar is a big problem for our leaf, said Graham Boyd, chief executive officer, TGANC. "It puts us at a big disadvantage in the world market. It interferes with our efforts to recapture lost markets but we must keep trying."

The first step now is to contact your financier and find out what is going to be realistic in 2020, said Blake Brown, N.C. Extension ag economist. "Try to have a plan. You don't want to be in a situation of where you are desperate and tempted to respond with desperate moves."

There is a lot of excess production in the world. A resumption of sales to China would be a godsend, but if it happened now, it might not take place in time for the 2020 crop.

It was a dismal season for Jeff Turlington. "We made about a half crop," said the flue-cured grower of Coats, N.C., just south of Raleigh. "We had drought from the beginning, then too much rain for several months, then Hurricane Dorian." which brought 45 to 50 mile gusts that hasted ripening much faster than could be handled. His other crops don't look very promising now.

The yield in 2019 was definitely down for Tom Shaw of Vance County, N.C. "The crop was beautiful early, but in July the weather changed," said Shaw. "Marketing this crop was a challenge. Our problem was trash and burnt tails. What the buyers wanted was what we didn't have."

Start gathering ideas now on how to produce tobacco at the lowest possible cost. A good place to start will be the North Carolina Tobacco Day on December 5 at the Johnston County Extension Center, Smithfield, N.C., lasting from 9 a.m. through lunch. Here is a partial list of the presentations. All speakers except Griffin are members of the N.C. Extension Service.
  • The outlook for 2020--Brown.
  • An update on cost of production for 2020--Gary Bullen, agricultural economist.
  • Could you apply MH to the stalk with a sprayer attached to a mechanical harvester?--Grant Ellington.
  • Emerging disease considerations --Lindsey Thiessen, plant pathologist.
  • New herbicides for 2020--Matthew Vann, crop & soil scientist.
  • How to scout better for insects--Hannah Burrack, entomologist.
  • A grower's perspective-Griffin.

Burley declining in the Blue Ridge: Hawkins County, where Davis lives near the border with Virginia, once had a thriving burley crop. But as best Davis can tell now, it was down to three growers this year, including him. The bad prospects for 2020 may bring an historic industry to its end in this mountainous area nestled in the Ridge and Valley region.


In the Philippines, growers get help from Representatives: A legislator has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives seeking to regulate vaping products. According to CNN Philippines, the purpose of the bill in part is to protect small-scale tobacco farmers who have been suffering losses due to e-cigarettes, which are commonly advertised as "safer" and "less harmful" alternatives to conventional tobacco products.

This is the November II
 issue of Tobacco Farmer Newsletter. If you haven't signed on to receive the newsletter regularly or if you need to change an address, please click on "Join our mailing list" and follow the prompts. For more information, you can call me at 919-789-4631 or email me at
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Sunday, November 17, 2019


As best this publication can tell, all the 2019 crop--like this burley wilting in Tennessee in October--has been harvested. Photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee.


"We had good soil moisture to start the season," he says. "But we had record-breaking heat and drought, starting in mid May. Except for the hurricane, there was substantially no break in the heat until three weeks ago. If we could irrigate more it would have helped but many farmers just aren't set up for it."

The yield was definitely affected. "In an average year, we might have a yield of 2,500 to 2,600 pounds per acre across the state," Vann says. "We are not going to make that. Perhaps we will fall short by 200 to 300 pounds."

Disappointment in the price: This market has been a big disappointment, thanks mainly to the low prices. The only way to improve things next is to adopt a quality strategy. "In 2020, we are going to live or die by the quality we produce," says Vann. "Look at little things you can do to focus on quality."

Pressure off barn space: Most flue-cured growers have been really strapped for barn space for several years. "In 2020, there should be less pressure," says Vann. "You won't have to be in such a hurry to get your crop out in the field in the spring, and you won't have to leave the crop out as long as possible in the fall." Quality could be favorably affected by both situations, he said

Harvest is done in Kentucky after a hard frost Saturday. Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist, says burley yields should be about average at 2,100 pounds per acre, he says, and up from last year. For the season, it was too wet early and too dry late. It was also dry during the cure, so the quality may have been affected. But it is hard to tell since only 30 percent to 40 percent of the crop has been stripped, says Pearce.

Top goal for 2020: Take advantage of the tools available to keep black shank in check. They include good rotation and choice of a resistant variety, then application of Orondis or Ridomil in the transplant water, then Presidio or Ridomil at first cultivation or layby. There are several good black-shank-resistant burley varieties, including KT 209, KT 210 and KT 215, says Pearce.

Burley harvest in Virginia is complete also. The last few fields were cut in late October, with perhaps the very last one harvested in Appomattox County the last few days of the month. Dark tobacco has reached the market preparation stage.

In the dark tobacco areas of western Kentucky and Tennessee, yields of the dark types look to be down a little, says Andy Bailey, Extension tobacco specialist for that area. "Our average yield for dark fire-cured will probably be down at least 2 to 300 pounds per acre to 3,000 pounds."

The weather in the Black Patch was characterized by a very wet spring and intense late summer drought. "It reached 93 degrees on October 3," Bailey says. Then it was dry in the curing season. "Our dark air-cured and burley cured very fast, maybe in less than six weeks as compared to the normal seven or eight." It is yet to be seen if that will have a quality impact.

Some fields were so wet in the spring they had to be re-set in July. That had them growing in a period of bad drought in late August and all of September and definitely affected yield. "We had more late set tobacco than ever," he says. The Purchase area of Kentucky was one of the most affected.

Disease report from the Deep South: Low levels of TSWV--"Only 10 to 12 percent of the crop [in Georgia] displayed TSWV," says J. Michael Moore, Georgia Extension tobacco specialist. Control measures seem to have helped. "Much of the crop was treated in the greenhouse with a tray drench of Admire Pro. Some was treated with a foliar spray of Actigard also. Black shank--Orondis Gold in the transplant water and Presidio or Ridomil at layby. But in case of rain, you may apply Ridomil at first cultivation and you might choose to do the Presidio layby application as well. Rotation and varietal resistance also need to be included. "Where farmers use these tools, they have worked pretty well," he says.

Yields in Georgia-Florida were slightly better than average this season. Moore estimates average yield in Georgia at 2,200 pounds per acre and in Florida at 2,400 to 2,450 pounds.

Auction report: Most sound flue-cured brought $1 to $1.10 a pound at the Old Belt warehouse in Rural Hall, N.C., at its weekly sale Tuesday. Almost all of the tobacco offered was third and fourth grades. That represented a considerable drop from the average of a few weeks ago

How long will auction season last? White says he will continue sales till Thanksgiving week or even later if there is tobacco to sell. The Piedmont crop was so late this year that he believes there is still substantial tobacco on the farm at this time. But he says everything has been harvested.


Disarray in Zimbabwe: "Most of the growers who sold on the auction floors [this year] received sub- economic returns," said the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association in a statement. "This will have a [negative] impact on their ability to finance themselves for the next season."

December 5, 9 a.m.-noon. N.C. Tobacco Day, Johnston County Extension Center,  Smithfield, N.C. Lunch will follow the program.

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